Heterogeneity in tertiary lymphoid structures predicts distinct prognosis and immune microenvironment characterizations of clear cell renal cell carcinoma

January, 01, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS) are organized aggregates of immune cells that develop postnatally in non-lymphoid tissues and are associated with pathological conditions. TLS typically comprise B-cell follicles containing and are encompassed by T- cell zones and dendritic cells. The prognostic and predictive value of TLS in the tumor microenvironment (TME) as potential mediators of antitumor immunity have gained interest. However, the precise relationship between localization and maturation of TLS and the clinical outcome of their presence in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) is yet to be elucidated.


Immunohistochemistry and multispectral fluorescence were used to evaluate the TLS heterogeneity along with TME cell-infiltrating characterizations. A thorough investigation of the prognostic implications of the TLS heterogeneity in 395 patients with ccRCC from two independent cohorts was conducted. Associations between TLS heterogeneity and immunologic activity were assessed by quantifying the immune cell infiltration.


Infiltrated TLS were identified in 34.2% of the ccRCC samples (N=395). These TLS were found to be tumor-proximal, tumor-distal, or both in 37.8%, 74.1%, and 11.9% of the TLS-positive cases, respectively. A higher proportion of early TLS was found in tumor-distal TLS (p=0.016), while tumor-proximal TLS primarily comprised secondary follicle-like structures (p=0.004). In the main study cohort (Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, N=290), Kaplan-Meier analyses revealed a significant correlation between the presence of tumor-proximal TLS and improved progression-free survival (PFS, p<0.001) and overall survival (OS, p=0.002). Conversely, the presence of tumor-distal TLS was associated with poor PFS (p=0.02) and OS (p=0.021). These findings were further validated in an external validation set of 105 patients with ccRCC. Notably, the presence of mature TLS (namely secondary follicle-like TLS, with CD23+ germinal center) was significantly associated with better clinical outcomes in patients with ccRCC. Furthermore, novel nomograms incorporating the presence of tumor-proximal TLS demonstrated remarkable predictability for the 8-year outcomes of resected ccRCC (area under the curve >0.80). Additionally, ccRCC samples with tumor-distal TLS enriched with primary follicle-like TLS exhibited higher programmed death-ligand 1 tumor-associated macrophages levels and regulatory T cells infiltration in the tumor-distal region, indicative of a suppressive TME.


This study for the first time elucidates the impact of TLS localization and maturation heterogeneities on the divergent clinical outcomes of ccRCC. The findings reveal that most TLS in ccRCC are located in the tumor-distal area and are associated with immature, immunosuppressive characterizations. Furthermore, our findings corroborate previous research demonstrating that tumor-proximal TLS were associated with favorable clinical outcomes.

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